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Should a technical communicator take part in estimating user stories?

For the convenience of writing in this blog, I need names for the two projects I’m working on. Let’s call them Project Scissors and Project Stone.

It was time for a planning session on Project Scissors. I think this was an unusual case as the project was dealing with some new stuff that our team didn’t fully understand. So, as part of this planning session the team wanted to estimate a series of user stories from the product backlog. To do this, they were going to use the planning poker technique. And they asked me to take part.

My question is:
Should a technical communicator be taking part in planning poker sessions?

A planning poker session would normally be used to estimate the product backlog and would happen before the sprints had started. In a planning poker session, everyone on the team listens to a description of the user story that needs to be estimated, and they all vote by using a pack of cards showing a number from the Fibonacci sequence.

Participants with high numbers or low numbers get the opportunity to discuss their reasoning with the team, and then another round is played. This carries on until a consensus is reached.

Developers get the chance to estimate testing tasks, and testers get the chance to estimate development tasks.

And then there was me. No one was estimating my user stories as I didn’t have anything on the backlog – at that time.

So, was it OK for me to take part in the planning session?

My tactic (yes, I did have a tactic) was to never estimate lower than a 3 or higher than a 10. That left me with 3, 5, 8, and 10. My reasoning for this was I didn’t want to have to justify my estimate to the team, and it made me ‘fit in’ with the team. Bit sad, but it worked.

But I clearly didn’t contribute anything as I only understood about half of what was said in the room during the planning session, so in answer to my question – No, I shouldn’t have taken part. I certainly didn’t help the team reach an understanding of how large any user story was.

However, my inclusion did have a few benefits:

  • I got the opportunity to listen to the user stories being explained. Yes, I might have had trouble understanding them, but then so did a lot of the team.
  • I learnt more about the agile process.
  • I got the opportunity to spend time with the team working towards a single goal. Some of the team are new to the business and up until that meeting, I really didn’t feel like I knew them at all.
So, what do you think? Should technical authors take part in these estimating sessions?
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One reply on “Should a technical communicator take part in estimating user stories?”

Since I posted this, I've had a couple of conversations with people in the office about it. The feeling from those I spoke to was that Technical Communicators should definitely take part in estimating sessions. Maybe be initial worry that contributing to estimates about things we have little knowledge of, actually isn't that important – any wayward estimates we select, are going to get wiped by the more knowledgeable members of the team anyway.

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